Youth animal science: Endocrinology

Take a deeper look at the science involved in animal production by exploring endocrinology.

Michigan youth explain the model they created using the Farm Animal Reproduction Activity to better understand endocrinology. Photo: Melissa Elischer, MSU Extension.
Michigan youth explain the model they created using the Farm Animal Reproduction Activity to better understand endocrinology. Photo: Melissa Elischer, MSU Extension.

As learned in “Showcasing the science in ‘animal science’,” youth are using science in all aspects of raising animals. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, ethology (study of behavior), virology (study of viruses), bacteriology (study of bacteria), endocrinology (study of hormones) and many more scientific fields play a large role in animal production.

With the adoption of the National Research Council’s report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework. These eight practices help guide youth through thinking about science while making the subject a little less intimidating. There are numerous MSU Extension news articles to help youth succeed in science and see it more in their everyday lives.

This article series will look more closely into the science that is inherently part of every 4-H animal project, breaking it down into five major areas including endocrinology. Additional articles cover anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and chemistry, virology and bacteriology and ethology.

Endocrinology is the study of hormones. Youth can be involved in studying endocrinology in a variety of ways. One way in which the science is applied is when youth select animals for matings, expanding their number of animals and improving the genetics within their herd or flock. Determining what the best matings are and exactly when breeding should occur is applying endocrinology. Because each animal has a unique reproductive schedule, it takes time, knowledge and skill to predict when a female animal will come into estrus (heat). If a youth incorrectly predicts the estrus cycle of a female they are trying to breed, the mating will be unsuccessful, costing them time and money.

However, with advances in technology, youth are able to utilize these advancements in increased efficiency and accuracy relating to breeding. Technology continues to play an integral role in animal production and applied sciences. Using technologies to aid a breeding program requires youth to make a variety of scientific decisions in order to create the best outcome possible.

Depending on which species the youth is working with, the technology and processes involved with endocrinology, specifically breeding, can vary. One example of advanced technology is artificial insemination. Even so, before being able to artificially inseminate an animal, the owner must closely monitor the animal’s hormones to determine when the female animal should be bred. An advantage is that artificial insemination allows the owner greater flexibility in selecting which sire to breed to the dam. This advance makes it easier for youth to explore the range of sciences involved in animal production while improving their decision-making skills.

Youth can also apply the science of endocrinology in more simplistic ways. Specifically, in today’s day and age, social media and many other news outlets are constantly sharing information. With a basic understanding of endocrinology, youth are able to critically evaluate what they read and determine accuracy of the content. One Michigan 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lesson that directly relates to this concept is the “Growth and Hormones Activity: Examining Growth Hormones in Beef” (4H1658) lesson. This lesson asks youth to do just that, apply their own critical thinking skills, challenging youth to think broader about the misconceptions and myths related to hormones in meat products.

To continue helping youth learn more about animal science, consider using other MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lessons including the “Farm Animal Reproduction Activity” (4H1663), which illustrates the concept of fertilization in a much more basic way. There are also several volunteer trainings offered in Michigan throughout the year, as well as more resources on the Michigan 4-H Resources page.

Other articles in this series:

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